Lightning strikes are fascinating because, by their nature, they are beyond the control of our rationality and impulsively bind us to someone or something. They are at the same time dangerous, because they affect the judgment that we could coldly give regarding the person or object of our attraction, masking or minimizing any defects and enhancing only the merits, so as to distort the overall evaluation that we would give under normal conditions. If in the field of human relations dozens of other factors intervene to modulate this phenomenon, in the case of the “lightning strikes” that make us fall in love with a product, the described mechanism is quite frequent.
When Twelve minutes was revealed for the first time during E3 2019 I was impressed, like many other fans of indie games, and I mentally fixed myself on the note to follow the development of the game to grab it immediately upon its release. There was no real reason to justify that form of hype, the fact is that curiosity survived the years and the pandemic and continued until the fateful Day one of Luis Antonio's interactive thriller. With an effort of abstraction and with an attitude as professional as possible, I threw myself body and soul into the game, to confirm or deny the promising impressions that had made me fall in love with it. The result was, unfortunately, a moderate disappointment; or perhaps, to give space to my love at first sight, only one partial success.
A normal exceptional evening
It seems like an ordinary evening that of the protagonist that we start to check at the beginning of the game. The particular (dis) adventure of him was made known by the trailers of recent years, but what was still not clear to everyone were the premises of the story. We know him as he returns to his apartment, forced to retrieve the spare keys hidden in a vase just outside the door. Upon entering his home, he is greeted by the familiar voice of his wife who, bursting with irrepressible joy and love, welcomes him with a kiss. There's the man's favorite dessert in the fridge, for what looks like a party night whose motive will soon be revealed.
There is no time to celebrate, however, as the couple's quiet picture is ruined by a sudden visit. A stranger rings the bell insistently and introduces himself as the police, even though his manners seem unorthodox. Whether or not to let him in makes no difference, because the stranger is determined to break into the apartment even by force. Its entrance is devastating: the protagonist is tied up and thrown to the ground, the wife undergoes the same treatment and is then accused of a horrible crime that her husband had never suspected anything about. There is not even time to rearrange ideas, because the self-styled policeman bends over the man and strangles him. But death doesn't seem to be the end of it all in this case.
Point-and-click in loop
The underlying mechanics of Twelve Minutes, as we said, were now known: the protagonist finds himself trapped in a time loop of ten minutes (yes, ten, despite the title) that begins with his entry into the apartment and ends in the event of death, such as that caused by strangulation by the stranger, or in the event of an attempted escape from the apartment. The structure on which this basic gimmick is grafted, in terms of gameplay, is that of adventure point-and-click. The commands basically consist of moving a cursor with the left analog stick and interacting with objects or people with the A button. We have an inventory, at the top of the screen, which allows you to collect objects to use them directly or in combination with others.
La view from above it allows us to manage the movements and actions of the protagonist through the three rooms that make up the narrow "map" of the game. Most of the events take place in the room that serves as the kitchen and living room, but we can also move to the bedroom and bathroom. The very minimal furniture translates into equally reduced possibilities of interaction, which however does not mean having few combinations of actions and dialogue with which to try to make the story proceed. In reverse.
Yes, because the purpose of Twelve Minutes is obviously to take advantage of the ten minutes of the time loop in which we are imprisoned to obtain information that allows us to change the fate of the protagonist and his wife and to discover the truth. It goes without saying that what happens in the course of a cycle, in terms of actual events, discoveries and outcomes of dialogue, remains in man's memory and opens up new outlets for him in subsequent repetitions. On the basis of the information collected, it is thus possible to predict the consequences of a word or gesture and anticipate the actions or responses of others, to add pieces to the basic puzzle and arrive at the solution of the mystery.
A game is not a movie
The fateful question for those who want to approach this game is only one: does it work? The answer cannot be clear-cut. On the one hand, there is the charm inherent in the idea of a time loop, a charm capable of intriguing those who follow the title from its announcement and of intersecting distantly with a theme, that of time travel, which always reserves narrative outlets (and in this case videogames) interesting. On the other hand, however, there is the very small detail that Twelve Minutes is not a movie or a book, but a video game. Although Luis Antonio and his marketing team have pushed a lot, especially recently, on the mixture of cinema and video game on which their product is based and although the choice of three Hollywood actors to dubbing was not accidental, Twelve Minutes cannot transcend from the its interactive component.
A very first and important limitation of the game lies in the practical implications that the concept of time loop brings with it
In the case of a work belonging to a different medium, in fact, the repetition could be treated from different points of view or with different accents in order to make it a strong point. In this case, however, the need to experience and relive the same events in first person, in the same locations and with the same people (two points, these, which distinguish Twelve Minutes from any roguelike with procedural generation levels, for example) it is always one step away from flowing into repetitiveness. Telling our wife dozens of times that it is the ideal time for dessert, setting the table or retrieving medicines from the cabinet for several consecutive runs becomes exasperating in the end.
But there is another defect not just, less linked to the videogame sector and more to the purely narrative one. Husband and wife, in fact, are the protagonists of extraordinary events that should upset them, but which in fact leave them impassive. The same discovery, by man, of being trapped in a time loop comes straight, almost without surprise, after the start of the second cycle. Not a doubt, not a reflection, but a simple awareness of a fact that should be supernatural but which is gladly accepted as a common fact. The same simplicity with which the concept is first introduced in dialogues with his wife and her reaction when she has proof of the truth of the man's words represent a very low level of intensity which is of no use to the atmosphere of the game.
There are endless examples of this. Perhaps due to the need to fit everything into the ten minutes of the cycle, perhaps due to the inevitable limits linked to the different combinations of dialogue that must adapt to the choices of the players, we are witnessing too weak reactions with respect to the seriousness of the events to which they refer. While the policeman ties up his wife, the man remains impassive waiting to suffer the same fate; when we explain to his wife the accusation leveled against her, she responds with annoyance rather than disbelief, and then willingly accepts a cup of water that we offer her, as if nothing had happened. This and other examples constitute a strong limit to the involvement that the game should guarantee given its nature.USEFUL INFO
I played Twelve Minutes on Xbox Series X connected to a 4K TV and in the cloud from PC via Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. I explored various possibilities for about eight hours.Duration
- The duration depends a lot on the type of choices you make and the ability to minimize ineffective repetitions, in any case five or six hours should be ensured.
- Thriller point-and-click adventure with multiple endings;
- Each time loop lasts ten real minutes.
An overall addicting game
We listed the flaws first, but that doesn't mean Twelve Minutes is lacking in quality. The idea behind the game is, as repeated, very interesting and gives rise to unexpected twists. If we overcome the repetition effect of some of the actions we have to take to explore the different possibilities, we discover a gameplay that demonstrates how a single choice can open new doors on our knowledge of history. Combining specific interactions with targeted dialogue choices and doing everything within the tight deadlines linked to the shortness of the time loop is in its own way fascinating, compelling, even without reaching the peaks of the "suspense of the Shining" announced on the official website.
The fact of discovering the various pieces of history a little at a time, without a chronological order, is also a point in favor. We start from a few elements, we use a loop to get new ones and we force ourselves on these to unlock different dialogue options in the next one. All to get to the information or the next twist, in the best of cases, without ever feeling the sense of completeness that comes from having explored all the possible outcomes of our choices. For this there are other loops, other decisions, other actions and other phrases that we can experiment, relentlessly, until the circle is closed.
Then there is the not negligible added value of experimentation, the real lifeblood that can bring the gaming market out of its immobility and its frequent mannerism. Without turning a blind eye to the flaws of Twelve Minutes, therefore, it is natural to applaud Luis Antonio for having given birth to an out-of-the-box experience. It is precisely this form of audacity, risk-taking and breaking certain traditional barriers related to gaming that can win the trust of users, even net of some forgivable defects. All this to underline the fact that Twelve Minutes must be played, if there is the possibility, because once you enter his universe you will not be able to detach yourself from it until you have found the right path towards the truth.
Technical ups and downs
From a technical point of view, Twelve Minutes does its thing without excelling. Even if the graphics point to realism, obviously you do not reach the heights of the great triple A games. The view from above partially masks the indie nature of the visual sector and on the whole it offers a pleasant and credible experience also from the cinematographic point of view so dear to Luis Antonio and his associates. What is less well disguised is instead the characters' walking system, sometimes mechanical and robotic, a bit a la The Sims in certain situations, even if you get used to it quickly and overcome it by focusing on other qualities of the game.
Little to say on the sound side. The dubbing of James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley e Willem Dafoe it's flawless. If in some situations the tone and intention do not seem consistent with what is happening it is for the aforementioned problems of combining events, more than for the inexperience of the three Hollywood stars. Not very incisive, yes, the accompanying soundtrack, too shy and negligible within an experience that is openly inspired by the big screen.Review by Jury Livorati
The graphic sector takes advantage of the top view to mask some imperfections and make, overall, a more realistic and credible effect, overcoming the limits imposed by the indie nature of the game.
SOUNDTRACK AND DOUBLE ROOM
The intangible soundtrack throughout the game is balanced by a high-level voice acting by a not indifferent Hollywood cast. Too bad because in some cases the intensity suffers due to a certain inconsistency between words and deeds.
The point-and-click system reduced to the bone does not prevent you from finding continuous stimuli in the game, also thanks to the dynamics of the time loops and the fragmentary narrative that derives from it. The risk of repetition, however, is always around the corner.